Talk Shop?

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The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), a body originally conceived in 1985 for the welfare of the peoples of South Asia appears to have actually never taken off. In terms of practical import, the SAARC has hardly anything to show and appears to have morphed into a veritable talk shop, where its members indulge in rhetorical grandstanding and posturing. This is a sad commentary on an organization whose rationale is or was the welfare of South Asia as a region. The question is why has not this body lived up to its promise? The answer may lie in competing nationalisms and sovereigntisms and the conflicts these have spawned in and within the region, especially between and among its core constituents, India and Pakistan. Like the entity that SAARC perhaps aimed to emulate, that is, the European Union , where Germany and France constitute core Europe, India and Pakistan constitute core South Asia. But, while Germany and France, to a large extent, reconciled themselves and formed the nucleus of the European Union, India and Pakistan, not only are estranged but are arch foes and antagonists. Their structural and deep animosity makes deadlock at the SAARC all too inevitable and renders the body into a mere talk shop. Does this mean that the body will never live up to its potential? While nothing can be said definitively by way of an answer but, at this point in time, it appears that SAARC will not be a substantive body and will either underperform and not live up to its lofty premises. In a way, this constitutes a travesty, given that South Asia needs a body which can aggregate the various issues that bedevil the region and do not allow it to fulfill its potential thus redounding negatively to the welfare of the peoples that constitute its firmament. The end result is a region and people that are at odds with each other. Broadly speaking, the infirmities, the conceptual and structural reasons that define the SAARC point out to the resilience of the nation state entity and the jealous prerogatives that stem from it. Yes, the European Union was a supranational entity that overcame the structural limitations of the nation state, but it took time and far sighted leadership. But, yet again, the recrudescence of nationalism and populist nationalism is making the EU construct look fragile. All this is not to suggest that SAARC is doomed but to make it effective, the body needs to be revived with vigor and sincerity which, however, against the backdrop of structural and ideational changes in South Asia, appears to look unlikely.